A local judge has ruled in a case involving a Havre man who claims he was illegally pulled over by Havre police.
It wasn’t a matter of whether Dolan Tuss was drunk when he was stopped by police. He was. But he appealed his third DUI offense to a higher court because he believes he was pulled over illegally and therefore should have all evidence of his drunk driving, and the resulting court proceedings, thrown out.
But the district judge who is hearing the case, an appeal transferred from Havre City Court where Tuss pleaded guilty, disagrees.
On Friday, Twelfth District Judge Kaydee Snipes-Ruiz issued a written ruling that Dolan Tuss was legally pulled over on Aug. 2, 2018, quashing his attorney’s attempt to suppress evidence of his intoxication.
“This Court finds that (the officer) did have sufficient, reliable information to establish a particularized suspicion that (Tuss) was committing a crime prior to stopping his vehicle,” Snipes-Ruiz wrote.
Legally, Tuss has the option to appeal to a higher court, the state Supreme Court. As of now, the case continues as any other would.
Tuss’ attorney, Brian Lilletvedt of Havre, did not reply to multiple requests from the Herald for comment.
On Aug. 2, 2018, a woman reported to police that a drunken Tuss left a Havre convenience store, got in his pickup and drove away. The woman, who was in a vehicle in the parking lot, made the 911 call at the request of her brother, who was in the store and had noticed Tuss’ inebriation.
Both testified July 30 in District Court that they saw clear evidence of Tuss being drunk. They said Tuss and a friend, the would-be passenger, were stumbling and staggering in the store, in the parking lot, and eventually into his pickup.
The man said he told Tuss to call a cab or to allow him to give Tuss a ride. Tuss’ response, the man said, included profanity. Then Tuss sped out of the parking lot, “blazed through a stop sign,” and fishtailed onto Second Street, the woman testified.
Havre Officer Brandon Olson testified that he moved quickly on the call, found the vehicle and pulled Tuss over on Third Street. He admitted Tuss didn’t violate any traffic laws and he didn’t see any signs of impaired driving before pulling him over. The officer pulled him over simply because someone reported that a man driving a black Ford pickup with temporary tags was driving drunk. The officer also knew that someone was willing to sign a statement.
And herein lies Lilletvedt’s argument: Law enforcement shouldn’t just be able to haphazardly pull people over simply because someone calls the police accusing them of being drunk, or anything else for that matter. If all it took was an accusation, the public would have no constitutional safeguards against malicious or ill-informed citizens and officers, Lilletvedt said.
Lilletvedt argued that legal precedent says officers must follow a three-part test to determine if they can legally pull someone over based on a citizen’s report: The informant must identify themselves; the informant’s report must be based on personal observation; and the officer’s observation needs to corroborate what the informant reported.
In this case, he argues the woman didn’t identify herself; he made the point that her report was based on her brother’s observation and not hers; and, of course, the officer didn’t see Tuss breaking any traffic laws, providing no legal reason to stop him.
But the judge ruled there was plenty of suspicion to render the stop legal.
“Even though the Officer did not observe other clues as to potential DUI behavior by defendant prior to initiating his investigative stop, direct observation of the specific illegal activity was not required, as other relevant facts were corroborated by the informant,” Snipes-Ruiz said in her ruling.
Everything about the caller’s report up to that point had been reliable, the judge concluded, including the color and type of pickup, the fact that it had temporary license plates, and the direction it traveled from the convenience store.
Also, although the woman did not identify herself while on the phone with dispatch, she gave plenty of contact information for her brother, who testified he was at the scene. The woman has since identified herself as the informant as well.
The officer, who found Tuss driving about two minutes after the report was made, told Tuss why he stopped him. According to the report: “The driver said he was at Town Pump prior to the traffic stop and admitted to drinking.”
The officer testified that Tuss smelled of alcohol and seemed confused. He had a hard time finding his registration or proof of insurance, his speech was slurred, and his eyes were bloodshot and watery. Tuss failed the “walk and turn” and “one-legged stand” tests and, after refusing to take the preliminary alcohol screening test, was arrested and taken to jail.
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Write to Paul Dragu at firstname.lastname@example.org